That the government’s decision to put the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) under the Essential Services Act 1952 for six months has come under fire from employees’ unions and so-called pro-labour political parties including the PPP is not one bit unexpected. For decades, the national carrier has been a bloated mess, where unionists have ensured bogus employments and opposed all attempts at reform. Under the false pretext of labour rights and welfare, the PIA has been made a horror show featuring nepotism, inefficiency and heavy losses. Political parties such as the PPP have used it as a political tool against their opponents despite knowing full well that the model they favour is clearly unsustainable.

Even at this crucial juncture, they choose to ignore the fact that putting the PIA under Essential Services Act 1952 was necessary to ensure services remain uninterrupted. The PIA has to accomplish the momentous task of rescuing thousands of Pakistanis stuck abroad. For the first time in history, the airline has received permission from the US to operate chartered flights to bring home stranded Pakistanis.

This brings us to the greater issue that due to COVID-19, the airline industry across the globe is experiencing massive losses and expecting no respite in the months ahead. As entire fleets remain grounded with domestic and international travel activity disappearing overnight, airlines are already making tough decisions to prevent complete collapse. Virgin Australia has in fact collapsed, FlyBe in UK has gone into administration, while the likes of British Airways, RyanAir and others have announced massive layoffs as they plead for bailouts. The government should not hesitate from implementing necessary measures and shedding deadweight at the PIA in order to keep it operational. It should not allow special interests masquerading as rights advocates to cause further harm.